The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Often assigned as required reading for Asian studies classes or literature class, this novel by Pearl S. Buck published in 1931 offers a raw view of China during the reign of the last Emperor. The story follows a simple farmer and his wife as they struggle with the changes of the twentieth century and how to live in a world that is becoming vastly different from what they have always known. This story also provides an interesting look at the values that drove the Chinese during this time in history.


Wild Swans Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

Censored in the Chinese mainland (due to its frank discussion of the Cultural Revolution), this readable and moving autobiography follows three generations of women living in China through the Cultural Revolution. A great look at the true effects of 20th century Chinese history on one family from grandmother, mother, to the author herself. First published in 1991, the book has been translated into 30 languages and is often categorized as a “must read” for those who want an autobiographical glimpse into how this era has affected everyday Chinese mentality and thinking.

Rivertown: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler was the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker and a contributor to National Geographic. One of his best-known works is the book Rivertown, which chronicles his often humorous and widely entertaining experience as a 2-year Peace Corps volunteer in the small town of Fuling on the Yangtze river. Along with fellow teacher Adam Meier, the two foreigners are an extremely rare sight in this part of the country and their experience socially, culturally, and personally during their stay in Fuling captures the attitudes towards foreigners as well as the political and historical climate of the time.

Mr. China by Tim Clissold

A classic “business primer” set in the early 1990’s and written with humor for those who are thinking about doing business in China. “Mr. China” gives outsiders an amusing insider’s look at what it is like to do business with locals, the difficulties of working in a society that values contracts differently, the challenge of setting up businesses to comply with unwieldy government regulations, and the intricacies of working with a culture vastly different from the west.

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer

Author Michael Meyer is a journalist who has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, then in the last decade in Beijing teaching English at a local public school. He writes about his experience living in a traditional hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families and how the tension of preservation vs. modernization mounts as the run-up to the 2008 Olympics approaches. The neighborhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of modern, urban life. “The Last Days of Old Beijing” tells the story of this historic city from the inside out through the eyes of those in the neighborhood.


Beijing and Shanghai (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

This one handy guide covers two of China’s most fascinating cities. This Eyewitness Travel Guide provides in-depth coverage of Beijing and Shanghai, including Beijing’s Great Wall and Forbidden City, Shanghai’s Bund and the French Concession. The guide also touches on the nearby water towns of Suzhou and Hangzhou which are known for gardens, lakes, and beautiful traditional architecture. Illustrated features allow readers to explore Opera to Confucianism, Chinese Gardens and the Cultural Revolution. Readers will also enjoy the illustrations highlighting the differing regional cuisines. The guide provides detailed listings of the best places to stay and eat as well as walking tours of each city.

China Survival Guide: How to Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps by Qin and Larry Herzberg

Larry and Qin Herzberg are professors of Chinese language and culture at Calvin College in Michigan. They travel to China every year and have written a humorous travel guide sharing tips and tricks of traveling in China. Readers will learn about their travel mishaps roaming the country and how to avoid finding themselves in uncomfortable situations. The Herzebergs teach you about what to expect at airports, hotels, hospitals, taxis, and bathrooms. This handy guide also teaches readers how to haggle, exchange currencies, cross the street, decipher menus, say useful phrases in Chinese, and more.


The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century by Will Hutton

This work provides a provocative look at the challenges China faces in the 21st century. Due to the speed of China’s development and the combination of cheap labor and commitment to science and technology, many view China as an emerging superpower that will soon challenge the pecking order of the current global economic and political landscape.

The book puts forth the idea that what happens in China will irrevocably affect the global economy, and how it is up Britain, Europe and the US to recognize that they have a vital stake in assuring that China has a successful transition into capitalism.

Dragon Rising by Jasper Becker

Dragon Rising provides a wide-ranging portrait of China’s problems and prospects. Becker takes readers through the changes within China that are reshaping global economic, diplomatic, and military strategies. Each chapter of the book focuses on a specific region and its local issues and weaves them into a broader context of China society. Vivid photographs illustrate this ancient culture transforming itself into a dynamic consumer society.

Mao’s Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar

In this book, MacFarquhar (director of the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard) and Schoenhals (lecturer on modern Chinese society at Sweden’s Lund University) critique Chairman Mao and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which took place between 1966 and 1976, when Mao’s policies and practices turned China upside down.

The book gives a sobering account of what happened and the characters involved in the power struggles of the time. Readers will be introduced not only to Mao Zedong, but his wife, Jiang Qing, and the other members of the ultra-leftist Gang of Four, as well as the top military leader Lin Biao, the beloved Premier Zhou Enlai and the Cultural Revolution’s top-ranking victims, President Liu Shaoqi and General Secretary Deng Xiaoping.

The writing follows the intrigues between Mao and his chief henchmen, the violence and denunciations of those deemed unpatriotic, and the staged humiliations and mass executions that brought the country into turmoil.

The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850-2009 by Jonathan Fenby

An informative introduction to modern China written in an accessible way for the everyday reader. The book traces China’s history from 1850 all the way up to 2009, allowing readers a good overview of the most recent changes in the country. As an overview, it doesn’t go in-depth into all subjects but instead provides a breadth of information that will help readers place modern Chinese history events into context.